For your horse to perform at his very best he needs to have a strong back – no matter what it is you’re doing with him. Strong back muscles will enable him to carry you with ease, achieve balance and rhythm and stay in a consistent outline throughout each pace and transition. It goes without saying then that the more you can do to strengthen his core muscles the better, and there are plenty of things you can do to help – read on for two simple exercises.
Leg Lifting Pole Work
Working your horse over trotting poles (in-hand or ridden) is a fantastic exercise to build his topline. We recommend you try this exercise in hand first to make sure your horse is settled and then hop on board.
How to ride it
- Start by riding over a single pole on the ground
- Next, slightly raise one end of the pole to make your horse use himself more
- Finally raise both ends
As your die over the poles you should have forward feeling contact and a slightly forward seat in order to make sure you don’t get left behind the movement.
How to progress
You can experiment with just one pole or set out several poles on a straight line or on a circle in a fan shape – repeating the three steps above. This will ensure your horse lifts and flexes his back muscles and it will also improve the structures in the hind legs.
Stretch, Strengthen and Flex
Carrot stretches are a series of in-hand exercise that can be hugely beneficial alongside the ridden exercises shown here. Use them every day after you’ve ridden when your horse’s muscles are warm – if you stretch him when he’s cold he may find it difficult or even pull something.
1. Hold a carrot between your horse’s front legs so he has to bend and flex down to reach it. Watch for his back coming up when you do this – a sure sign that the stretch is working.
2. Hold a carrot to each side so that your horse has to bend and flex his neck in that direction. Don’t let him cheat by turning his back end away from you – if he does this, position him next to a wall so he can’t turn away – he must reach round with his neck to get the full benefit.
Perform the stretches four times a week for a 12-week period, then two to three times a week after that.